Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lawyers Back in the Day



I have a professor who shares my love of a good TV program, especially a good lawyer show.  And she always indulges me whenever I try to use a television example of whatever topic we’re discussing and try to figure out how close it is to real life (surprisingly, often closer than you might think).  And, I’m just a little bit proud of the fact that I got her hooked on Suits, one of USA Network’s fine programs. 

But, today, LA Lawwe were reminiscing about an old-school show, LA Law.  As always when I think about programs that just seeped into the landscape of popular culture, it surprises me to think back and realize how old they really are, and this one is no exception.  Unbelievably, LA Law has been off the air almost twenty year, and yet today, when we were talking about false imprisonment claims based on getting stuck on an airplane, Douglas Brackman’s (Alan Rachins) similar circumstance from all those years ago was the first thing I thought of. 

  I think that’s how you know television has made an impact—when you find yourself referencing a decades-old episode like you just saw it last night.

For those not familiar with the show, it was an ensemble program revolving around the lives and loves of the members of a California law firm.  Like most law shows, it was a drama, but like the best law shows, it also wasn’t afraid of the humor.  The legal backdrop of story telling allows lawyer programs to venture into some pretty serious topics, so it helps balance things out when they’re willing to step back and enjoy a lighter moment.

One of the main characters on the show was Arnie Becker, a womanizing divorce lawyer.  Becker was played by Corbin Bernsen, who I still get to enjoy regularly on Psych.  (Yet another fine USA program.  Seriously, if you aren’t watching their network, you ought to be.)  He was an interesting character, with moments of depth, but often he was the comic relief. 

My favorite character, though, was Michael Kuzak, played by Harry Hamlin.  First, I’ll admit that it didn’t hurt that the guy was pretty easy on the eyes.  Second, Kuzak was pretty much my ideal type of character: smart, principled, and capable of self-doubt.  He’s the kind of guy who could rattle off an impassioned speech as easily as ordering from a value menu, and I like that in a character.  Years later, I would find many of those same qualities in another legal character, Alan Shore of Boston Legal, though he lacked some of the morality of Michael. 

So, LA Law provided us with the uber-moral Kuzak and the stereotypically sleazy Becker, and just about everything in between.  That’s what made it really good.  Interesting cases and ripped from the headline stories, sure, but also characters that could make those stories real, and make people think about the legal profession in ways that they hadn’t before. It really was part of mainstream culture in a way that many television programs and characters never are, and I’m glad when the old gang pops into my memory from time to time, like a visit from an old friend.